Highly sustainable residential community for autistic adults completes in Sonoma
Sweetwater Spectrum is a new national model of supportive housing for adults with autism, offering life with purpose and dignity. Designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, the 2.8-acre site provides a permanent home for 16 adults and their support staff. The four 3,250 sq ft four-bedroom homes include common areas as well as a bedroom and bathroom for each resident. Sweetwater Spectrum also incorporates a 2,300 sq ft community centre with exercise/activity spaces and a teaching kitchen; a large therapy pool and spas; and an urban farm, orchard, and greenhouse.
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States, affecting 1 in 88 children. In the coming decade, as many as 500,000 children with autism will reach adulthood, yet few residential options exist for them. In 2009, a group of families with autistic children, autism professionals, and community leaders founded the nonprofit organisation Sweetwater Spectrum to create appropriate, high-quality, long-term housing for adults with autism in a way that could be replicated nationwide. The new community is designed to address the full range of needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders, maximising residents’ development and independence.
The previously undeveloped midblock parcel lies a few blocks from the historic Sonoma Town Square in California, close to public transit and bicycle trails. The new community had to be safe and secure for the residents and staff and also provide for appropriate engagement with the neighbourhood and community through volunteer activities and outreach projects.
The design drew on evidence-based design guidelines for creating housing for adults with autism, as identified in a research study conducted by the Arizona State University Stardust Center and School of Architecture. Safety and security are paramount, and healthy, durable materials are used throughout. Individuals may customise their personal living spaces to accommodate their preferences and particular needs.
A range of simple universal design strategies allows for generous accommodation and equal access for all ages and abilities. Particular care was taken with the selection of the building materials and systems to promote healthy indoor air quality, acoustical control, and comfortable, super-efficient HVAC systems. Since ceiling fans can be a negative stimulus to people on the autism spectrum, a radiant slab heating and cooling system was used with a low-velocity ventilation system.
Targeted to meet U.S. Green Building Council LEED Gold standards, the project is also a PG&E Zero Net Energy Pilot Project and is designed to produce onsite all the energy required to operate the buildings.
The site was designed to maximise passive solar orientation, daylight, and natural ventilation. All buildings incorporate photovoltaic solar panels and solar hot water. Other energy-saving strategies include high R-value insulation in walls and roofs; high-performance insulated windows; low-reflective 'cool' roofs; solar tube skylights at interior halls; sun control where needed with overhangs, trellises, and operable exterior sunshades; high efficiency air-to-water heat pumps; energy-efficient light fixtures; Energy Star appliances; induction cook tops; and a building management system. Overall, these strategies improved energy performance by +30% better than California Title 24 energy requirements.